Meas Chantha prepares for the fight of his career as Cambodia gets set to host its first kickboxing world title match next week
THOMAS GAM NIELSEN
Kickboxing world-title hopeful Meas Chantha in action, above left, training at the Old Stadium, and right drinking water after his training session on Monday.
IT is a hot, damp Monday afternoon, the humidity is oppressive but Meas Chantha seems oblivious; he's already on the track in the Old Stadium doing warm-up laps.
He proceeds to slap, kick and punch his way through the next two hours of training, surrounded by - but largely ignoring - his fellow boxers in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) club, the former home of national kickboxing legend Ei Phouthang.
With only eight days to go before the Kingdom hosts its first world title kickboxing match, Cambodia's young contender is 100 percent focused on his form.
Nicknamed "The Dragon" for the full canvas tattoo covering his back, Meas Chantha is currently the most dominant kickboxer in his weight class.
Recently married, he is a native of Kandal's Rokah Kong district, some 45km north of the capital.
The 23-year-old started kickboxing five years ago. He has 48 fights with 34 wins under his belt and is getting ready for his first world title fight on Cambodian soil.
He trains twice a day Monday through Friday at Phnom Penh's Old Stadium and has acquired the self-explanatory nickname "Mr Super Serious" from the RCAF fighters he trains with.
But Meas Chantha needs to be serious.
On August 28 he will fight for the International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA) world title in the 68kg weight class against titleholder Frankie Hudders.
The match will be at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium, Last Wednesday the Cambodian saw Hudders, a 32-year-old Englishman, fight for the first time, albeit in a video posted on the internet.
"I've never met such a strong man before," Meas Chantha told the Post.
"Now I see my chances of wining as 50-50," he said.
"I told him not to be afraid," added Chhith Sarim his trainer, acknowledging that after they watched the video it had been necessary to refine the training program to ensure Meas Chantha did not lose focus in the face of the most challenging opponent he has encountered so far.
"He has the right experience and technique to beat his opponent, but his energy is still not there," Chhith Sarim said.
Hard work seems like the best chance Meas Chantha has of winning.
Despite his prowess in the Cambodian kickboxing world, in global terms he is a minnow.
Moreover, like many of the Kingdom's athletes, he is battling against a serious lack of resources. The RCAF kickboxing club where he trains has just two outdoor punching bags that the would-be world champ has to share with up to 20 young aspiring kickboxers during his training sessions.
The investors and promoters behind the world-title event hope that a Cambodian victory could be the first step in putting the Kingdom on the world kickboxing map and eventually attract more funding for the development of the sport locally.
"Even if I win the match, I will keep on working hard as I see it as a great chance to get more real international kickboxing matches in Cambodia," Meas Chantha said.